Misreading of order led to jail release

Witness in killing, not shooting suspect, was to be set free

3 employees made mistake

Facility procedures reviewed amid spate of recent escapes

October 17, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | By Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

An inmate being held in a fatal shooting was accidentally released in the summer because three jail employees misread a court order, Anne Arundel Council jail authorities said yesterday.

Richard S. Baker, superintendent of the county's two jails, said that correct procedures, which required three separate reviews of the order, were followed. But the court order called for the release of a witness in the January 2000 killing of a 27-year-old man in Maryland City, not the defendant in the case, David Boccabella, 19, who had been charged with first-degree murder.

Baker said that just by glancing at the top of the document that bore Boccabella's name, it appeared to those reviewing the papers that he was the one being released from the Anne Arundel County Detention Center.

It is unusual for a witness in a case to be held at the jail, but "that doesn't justify not reading it carefully and seeing the witness' name," Baker said.

On July 14, Boccabella was allowed to leave the lockup on Jennifer Road and might have been allowed to call for a ride home, after the witness had been released by other jail employees earlier.

Two booking record clerks and a security supervisor who reviewed the documents before Boccabella was released were suspended from duty for two days, Baker said.

Boccabella's absence went unnoticed until a relative called the jail to say that the defendant was willing to turn himself in, after a weekend of freedom. He was later charged with escape after he failed to turn himself in at the appointed time.

The mistake was highly embarrassing for county jail officials, who have seen a record number of escapes this year. The error prompted a review of release procedures at the jails.

"There was a check and balance in place," Baker said. "Three reviews occurred. What would have prevented this was if each person had read the court order carefully."

One set of jail employees had earlier read the order correctly and released the witness, said Baker. But when the paperwork resurfaced later that Friday night, the three employees on duty misread the order, he said.

"Our staff does 11,000 releases a year," said Baker. "They do a very good job. This was one case. It was human error. I'm not downplaying the seriousness of it, but I don't think it indicates a larger problem."

Inmates have escaped from the two detention centers in Anne Arundel County in record numbers this year - climbing razor wire fences, outrunning security officers and simply walking away from their supervisors.

Five escapes, including Boccabella's release, occurred within a five-month period.

Baker said he believed the increase was a coincidence, and did not indicate a pattern of staff error or a systematic problem.

An inmate escaped from the Jennifer Road detention center this spring by scaling a series of razor wire fences and outrunning security staff and police. He was found three days later by Annapolis police - still bloody from cuts from the razor wire - hiding in a trash bin at a fast-food restaurant.

The other three escapes occurred at the Ordnance Road detention center in Glen Burnie - a minimum-security facility where inmates serve short sentences.

Baker said the 4-year-old lockup was not designed to keep inmates inside by force.

"Those inmates are working their way to return to the community - and aren't expected to be jumping fences," he said. "That's not the philosophy of that type of incarceration. It wasn't designed for that."

Most of the inmates at the Ordnance Road jail are released each day for work assignments or are enrolled in educational or substance-abuse programs. Several dozen inmates only report to the lockup on weekends.

Escapes from jails like Ordnance Road's are relatively rare, officials said, because inmates earn a day off their sentences for every five hours they work.

Although this year's escapes tarnish an otherwise good security record for the county's jails, Baker said, "Mistakes are made. They're very unfortunate, but we try every day to make sure they don't happen again."

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